Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

College Tuition Inflation

with 23 comments

As promised, here is a graph showing the disparity between general cost-of-living inflation and inflation associated with college tuition and fees (if the student I promised this to reads this, please let me know if the post is clear):

inflation factors 2

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics and the College Board.

The figure compares inflation over the last 30 years associated with (1) the general cost of living, (2) the cost of medical care, and (3) college tuition and fees.

Inflation factors were computed to answer the question: in each year, how many dollars would be needed to have the same buying power as $1.00 had in 1978? The calculations made use of published data on the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers (CPI-U), the medical costs component of the CPI, and historical data on inflation of college tuition and fees.

As is well known, medical care costs have grown faster than the general cost of living — by 2008, nearly twice as much. This receives a lot of public attention and many complaints.

Yet college tuition and fees inflated at a much faster rate: nearly three times that of general inflation. Thus while it took $3.30 in 2008 to buy the same general commodities purchasable for $1.00 in 1978, for college tuition and fees nearly $10 in 2008 was needed to buy what $1.00 got in 1978.

This excess inflation has, incidentally, occurred across the board: for both private and public 4-year colleges, and for public 2-year colleges.

This is why students are being forced to take out exorbitant loans.

In short:

  • After adjusting for inflation, college tuition and fees are roughly three times more expensive now than in 1978. Why? What has intrinsically changed about college education so that this is the case?
  • Excess inflation of healthcare costs is a prominent issue and receives much attention; but excess inflation of college costs is even greater. Why is this not a major social issue?

Shouldn’t we be making a college education easier to obtain instead of more difficult? We claim to rely on young people to make a better world in the future. How are they supposed to do that when they step into adulthood already burdened with debt?

Reading and Resources

Written by John Uebersax

July 14, 2009 at 7:49 pm

23 Responses

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  1. [...] the late 1990s tuition prices are up over 400%, that’s nearly four times the cost of living increase families faced during the [...]

  2. [...] should apply to Georgetown, but ugh. It’s too expensive. I don’t want to play into the backward tuition game higher learning has fallen into. If I’m gonna borrow from Uncle Sam, it’s gonna be [...]

  3. [...] the time about the hyperinflation in health care costs, but the costs of higher education have been rising even higher than medical costs.  As the article I linked to notes there, for every $1 spent in 1978 on education, you’d [...]

  4. [...] general is becoming more and more expensive.  The average cost of college tuition went up nearly three times as fast as the cost of living in the period from 1978-2008.  I believe this is due to the increased [...]

  5. [...] prospects for the future. The key in that sentence, of course, is WAS: In the last three decades the cost of tuition has grown over 300%, way beyond inflation, while decreasing in quality (more about my experiences in higher education [...]

  6. [...] prospects for the future. The key in that sentence, of course, is WAS: In the last three decades the cost of tuition has grown over 300%, way beyond inflation, while decreasing in quality (more about my experiences in higher education [...]

  7. [...] the following graph, made by John Eubersax from College Board and BLS [...]

  8. [...] compare to college costs? They pale in comparison, increasing only half as much, according to the second chart. Whereas medical costs inflated at twice the rate of cost-of-living, college tuition and fees [...]

  9. [...] also: College Tuition: Inflation or Hyperinflation? GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

  10. I think you need to check the math. The rate of inflation was about 300% from 1978 to 2008 but if it took $10 in 2008 to purchase something that previously cost $1, then that represents a 1000% increase or ten times as much. I don’t understand why more people are not asking their state legislatures about this because, as the article points out, this is creating a situation where the middle class are being squeexed out of college. The rich can handle the increase, the poor qualify for grants but the middle class who earn just enough not to qualify for grants find it impossibly difficult to pay for college. Somehting is grossly amiss in this picture.

    James Gregory

    January 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm

  11. [...] race you are in when applying to the university. The cost for higher education has increased at  twice the rate of medical costs since 1978. Since 2000, tuition costs have doubled.  The cost of higher education makes it [...]

  12. [...] and penny stocks. From 1978 to 2008, a cost of college preparation increasing during some-more than triple a rate of inflation. Meanwhile, supervision assist to institutions of aloft training has nosedived in new [...]

  13. [...] cost of college education increased at more than triple the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, government aid to institutions of higher learning has [...]

  14. [...] mortgages and penny stocks. From 1978 to 2008, the cost of college education increased at more than triple the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, government aid to institutions of higher learning has nosedived in recent [...]

  15. [...] mortgages and penny stocks. From 1978 to 2008, the cost of college education increased at more than triple the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, government aid to institutions of higher learning has nosedived in recent [...]

  16. [...] and penny stocks. From 1978 to 2008, a cost of college preparation increasing during some-more than triple a rate of inflation. Meanwhile, supervision assist to institutions of aloft training has nosedived in new [...]

  17. [...] and penny stocks. From 1978 to 2008, a cost of college preparation increasing during some-more than triple a rate of inflation. Meanwhile, supervision assist to institutions of aloft training has nosedived in new [...]

  18. [...] mortgages and penny stocks. From 1978 to 2008, the cost of college education increased at more than triple the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, government aid to institutions of higher learning has nosedived in recent [...]

  19. [...] mortgages and penny stocks. From 1978 to 2008, the cost of college education increased at more than triple the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, government aid to institutions of higher learning has nosedived in recent [...]

  20. I hope you will pardon my lack of cyber-savvy here: I came across your blog and would like to cite your statement about college inflation as opposed to regular inflation for a paper. The name at the top right of your blog (at least on this page) is John Uebersax, Ph.D. Would it be possible for you to tell me the most appropriate way to cite this information? (I will use the given name if it is correct for this material; otherwise, I will need to cite per APA standards for web content without a named author.)

    Thank you so much for your help! (I am arguing for the benefit of high school programs that provide career tracks or the opportunity to transition into a career and NOT college if that is not what the student needs.)

    Thank you again,
    Prudence

    noguiltnofear

    August 22, 2012 at 2:59 pm

  21. What this chart doesn’t show is where all the extra money we pay for medical, and tuition costs went. To the top 1%.

    http://stateofworkingamerica.org/who-gains/#/?start=1978&end=2008

    Jerry Hirsch

    September 15, 2012 at 7:11 am


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